The first four tournaments of the season have been a bit of a mixed bag for the Del Norte boys basketball team. The Warriors are off to a 4-5 start to the season, but the team has been frustratingly inconsistent through its first nine games.
At times Del Norte seems to play like a team with its hair on fire, flying all over the court while staying fundamentally sound. Other times the Warriors’ intensity hasn’t quite been on point, and the Del Norte defense has allowed too many easy buckets.
“We are just really inconsistent, especially defensively,” said head coach Blaine Lopez. “That is something that we have to correct in the next three weeks. By the time league play starts we have to be consistent on that end. Sometimes you don’t play well offensively. That is just the way that it goes. So we have to be good on the defensive end every night.”
That is where the Warriors’ effort comes into play.
With a guard-heavy lineup again this season, Del Norte doesn’t have a true rim protector who can make up for other defensive mistakes. At times the Warriors have been able to counter with intense ball pressure, hustle plays and teammates ready to provide help should the need arise.
Lopez would just like to see more of it.
“A lot of it is just effort, which should be automatic,” Lopez said. “We have to learn that they have to play hard all the time. We can’t afford to take any breaks, especially on the defensive side of the floor. When we play well defensively it seems like we are playing with energy, we have people rotating to the right spots, and they are just doing the things that we are supposed to do. We have had a few games like that, but hopefully we can do that more often.”
Although energy and effort have always been staples of Lopez-coached Del Norte teams, those characteristics may be even more important to the Warriors this season due to its diminutive personnel.
The Warriors only have a few players over 6 feet tall and two of those players — Ethan Price and Omar Banuelos — have a skill set that would generally be associated with a wing or a guard in a traditional lineup.
Del Norte doesn’t have the personnel to field a traditional lineup, however. Instead the Warriors run a largely positionless system, similar to recent trends in the NBA and college, with a lineup of four or even five “guards” on the floor at any given time.
“We don’t really have (traditional positions). We kind of have everybody just go,” Lopez said. “We run an offense where everybody moves around a lot; we run a lot of different motion stuff. The thing is that Ethan is probably always going to have to guard some type of a post player because that is just the way it is going to work. It’s the same with Omar: he has to learn how to play on that end too, but he is only a sophomore, so we have to remember that. He is playing against guys that are bigger and stronger, so he has to really grow up fast.”
While a guard-heavy rotation often results in a Warrior forced to defend a bigger player in the post, it creates similar advantages for the Warriors when they have the ball.
“We have a lot of kids who are used to sharing the ball and moving the ball, so I think that part of it is an advantage for us,” Lopez said. “It sometimes creates matchup problems for some of the other teams — if their big guys get stuck on a guard, we hope that we can take advantage of that.”
Offensively, the Warriors have been able to take advantage of those opportunities fairly well, averaging almost 54 points per game in their first nine contests. That is almost eight points per game more than the Warriors averaged last season. Put a different way, Del Norte has already scored more than 60 points four times this season after breaking that barrier only one time last season.
“We have made some shots —that is the good thing offensively,” Lopez said. “We have been able to get pretty much any shot that we have wanted to get. Sometimes we shoot it a little too early, but for the most part we have gotten good looks at the basket. There are nights, though, and you see it at every level, that the shots just don’t get in.”
Even when shots aren’t falling, Lopez said his team has been able to get a lot of good looks at the basket most of the time.
“It is pretty much a team thing — that is how we do things,” Lopez said. “When we are getting good looks it is because we are getting good movement. We have done a good job of making sure that we are setting screens on people and not a spot, which has helped things work better. A lot of the time we have been making that extra pass too, to go from having a good shot to a great shot.”
That unselfish play has also allowed the Warriors to spread around their scoring. Del Norte doesn’t have one player that a team can key on defensively. Instead the Warriors have had two players score 28 points on separate occasions this year, while a total of seven players have reached double figures in at least one game this year.
“That is really important for us,” Lopez noted. “If we don’t have that we aren’t going to be successful. It is really important that we get six to 12 points from a lot of different guys. That is the way that we want to play, and that goes back to them making that extra pass to make sure we are getting open shots.”
Del Norte will be back in action with its final tournament of the regular season Dec. 28–30, in Sisters, Oregon.
That leaves a little less than two full weeks of uninterrupted practice for the Warriors to get ready for Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League play.
For Del Norte, that means working to become consistently energetic and intense.
“We are going to try to be more consistent. I don’t know how to do that yet. If I had figured that out we would have already done it,” Lopez said. “We are just trying to be more consistent, play with that intensity, and make them understand that if they play like that we will have a chance and if we don’t then we won’t have a chance. It is kind of up to them, they have to come with that effort and energy. Hopefully we will figure something out in the next week and a half.”